In this analysis, we explore the following questions about the approximately 24 million men and women of prime working age who were not in the labor force in 2016.
Key findings are:
- Women with a high school education or less are overwhelmingly the largest group of Americans out of the labor force.
- After excluding caregivers (approximately 40 percent of nonparticipants), men and women report the same reasons—and at similar rates—for not participating in the labor force. Almost 30 percent of nonparticipants report being ill or disabled, while 8 percent are students, and 5 percent are early retirees.
- Male and female labor force nonparticipants have very different living arrangements:
- The most common living arrangement for female nonparticipants is living with a spouse or partner.
- The most common living arrangement for male nonparticipants is living with a parent.
- Almost three-quarters of nonparticipants live in a household with earned income and only 11 percent report income from the safety net while receiving no earnings. More than 1.3 million Americans out of the labor force report having no income at all—this includes a lack of both earned (through wages) or unearned (such as retirement or safety net program) income.
- 45 percent of households (3.3 million) with a male prime-age nonparticipant and 28 percent of households (4.6 million) with a female prime-age nonparticipant are in the bottom quintile of income.